This is the book I never imagined would appear in this day and age.
I first heard of Songs of the Metamythos at a reading circle in Massachusetts in 2014. I was attending my first Mythcon and late one night, after hitting a creepy doll’s head in a fast-food uniform with a mallet, a timid group of writers gathered together to read bits of their work. At least I was timid, even through the exhaustion of a conference weekend.
While there was much that moved me that night, one story stuck out. It was the story of Maia and Luna, and it was a new myth. New in that they were new words and new stories—stories not rooted exclusively either in Christian theism or in Celtic, Mediterranean, or Boreal paganism, but in some kind of soil I did not know. Yet it was distinctly familiar. I don’t remember what he read—it was about the entwinement of Maia and Luna—but I wonder if the passage might have ended with these words:
Luna took Maia by the hands and met her eyes. “I am a broken thing, with too little to give; but let me give all I am to you. I don’t burn with the fires of Cosmos, but I will stay by your side for as long as my own simple flame endures, and I’ll rekindle yours whenever it falters. Cosmos will come and go; let me be your ever after.”
Captivated, I got the author’s card. It directed me to C.F. Cooper’s website. I purchased it Songs of the Metamythos as soon as it was released.
C.F. Cooper has done here what very few could have done. Reminiscent of Ovid’s mythology or the Elder Edda, Cooper has collected a series of myths and hero tales that together tell a single story. They are pagan myths, but not primarily of the European kind. If I’m not mistaken, despite their Greek and Latin names the characters live in Latin America, and the characters have the flavour of that strange mix of cultures that is the post-conquest Mesoamerican world.
There is still a theistic flavour, but this is not a Tolkienesque mythology. Though the pantheon is patriarchal in its first generation, the divine feminine is at the deepest roots of all things. The sexuality of these gods and goddesses bring the reader to intrigue, wonder, horror, and, ultimately, apocalypse. The writing is rich with sensual delight, historical fancy, and great narrative arcs that never hurry on their way home. Cooper is writing new myth. While the rhythms of the narrative and the roots of the myths are pre-modern, the characters have personalities: the gods take shape before us, for all their beauties and terrors. It is as if Songs of the Metamythos had no idea that God had died, that the last twilight of the gods has fallen.
Despite the newness, there is nothing self-conscious about his work. Never do I find the narrative forced. Neither are the characters forced into trite little necessities of allegory or symbolism—kinds of characterization that work well in other kinds of literature but can muddy myth. The characters are almost all problematic. I suspect that they intrigue and horrify author as much as they do the reader.
Yet the author—or transmitter, if you prefer—is steady at his task. Though I love creation myths, I am not always a fan of hero tales. But these ones kept me to the page with the entwined skills of high narrative, poetic prose, and characters that need to fill up some space in themselves.
I can do nothing more than point to the book itself. As an example, here is the charge of Chronos, god of time, to his newly deified son, Lucky the Storyteller. Lucky has learned of the future and, with disastrous consequences, has intervened. He pledges to his father that such a thing must never happen again. Chronos agrees, and offers Lucky the opportunity to become the storyteller of all creation:
“You have the opportunity to tell the greatest of stories— the sum of all lives, to the very moment of each death, for all of time,” Chronos told his son. “I cannot do this, for I know time as a completed whole, not by the order of its assembly. For me past and future mingle with the present; my telling would be a muddle to human minds. But you were raised among mortals, with their linear conception of the years; you know firsthand what they feel, how they love and suffer loss; and there is no finer storyteller in all Terra. This task is yours, or no one’s. I offer you the tableau of the ages from which to craft your story.”
This offer is gift-curse. I sort of wished that Lucky did not take it upon himself, but that would make another book.
The Songs of the Metamythos is filled with haunting lyrics:
“He is the last of his species. When I take him, I make an end to his kind for all time.”
“Someone must hear this,” she tells him.
“…he hears a harmonic fraction of Unu’s elemental song…”
“…Serene’s unadorned lips perform their alchemy…”
Often the text has a hypnotic quality. Indeed, there were times it lulled me into the rhythm and I had to go back and read the words. It could be that these tales are echoes of that generation that would have sung the myths around campfires and dinner tables. I simply downloaded it from Amazon.
You can see that I love the lyricism and the characters and the mytho-narrative framework. Do I have any complaints? Not as such. It is true that Cooper’s worldview—or the worldview of the text—is not my own. As attractive as paganism is on a poetic level, and as much as we need a jolt out of our Anglo-American assumptions, I think paganism throws us into a terrifying ethical loop.
It is not that I can say I didn’t think the myth was true. It’s a hard way to speak about myth, mostly because many misunderstand myth to be speaking about the past. The great myths are often set in the past—in this case, set in root realities of all of space-time—but they are not about the past. Myths tell the truth about now, about human experience in the moment of our contemporary triumph and crisis. In this case, Songs of the Metamythos told much truth, and some things I doubt. So I read this as I read Homer or the Edda or Morris, with a tourist’s interest rather than a pilgrim’s devotion—an invested tourist, but really an amateur and outsider at best.
But I have no complaints as a reader. Songs of Metamythos was a beautiful and engaging read. I would bet that the author has spent years—perhaps a decade? or two?—preparing these stories. The accompanying website adds a completely new layer to the myth that has finally found its way into print.
My only real worry is that this book has come too late. Who reads myths anymore? My own review of a new brilliant translation by Jeramy Dodds of The Poetic Edda was printed in some obscure literary journal. We are a generation of 30 second legends and 22 minute myths. Our stories come to us at 24 frames per second and 65 miles per hour on the freeway. My real worry is that there is no one left to read Cooper’s Songs of the Metamythos.
Can we have mythology in our pay-at-the-window McWorld? I hope so, at least for the few who still love the old stories. I doubt Cooper’s mythology will become a bestseller, but it is an important book. If you too are a lover of myth and legend and stories of the gods and heroes, find your way to the Songs of Metamythos. Books like these, like the world of the Songs, may soon disappear.
Hmm, interesting. I don’t think it’s my cup of tea – I’m not much interested in myth stories or legends of gods, etc, but your review has intrigued me. But I probably won’t pick it up, I have too many books on my “to be read” shelf already! Sounds like the author has done a lot of work to bring his book to life, though, and I will admire him for that! Glad you enjoyed it!
No, this definitely won’t be everyone’s thing! But some will find their way, I think. Now with a $1 ebook, it is a pretty accessible age for reading different kids of things.
The author is also (I think) a comic book artist/writer, so the web integration makes sense.
It sounds interesting. I got it on my Kindle and will read it. Thanks.
I enjoyed it–especially the writing and the problematic characters.
Pingback: 2015: A Year in Books | A Pilgrim in Narnia